I am a beef and pork eater, although not as much as I’d like to be. I don’t eat meat every day. I eat meat occasionally and when I do, I prefer chicken or turkey. A mob lynching in UP for allegedly eating beef, or an earlier mob thrashing in Kerala for serving pork have all sparked debate on meat-ban and culinary fascism in India. While it is true that beef-ban and reactionary politics of the Sangh Parivar has been the defining feature of the ideology of culinary fascism in India, the story has more to it than what meets the common eye. Recently, India has also witnessed a counter-cultural movement from Osmania University in Hyderabad, as well as Kerala, vis-a-vis a “Beef-festival” and was aimed against the restriction or total ban on beef or meat varieties. Going by articles and opinions of people who were behind the beef festival campaign, we realize that they were airing their anger against food fascism. It follows the premise that “to deny the right to eat their traditional diet is the denial of the right to live with dignity and without fear”. Although I am tempted to label meat-bans as India’s fascist vegetocracy, I ask myself if it is where the story ends ?
If you live in an European or non-Indian neighbourhood in the so called liberal West and are fond of Indian cooking, you are sure to have faced another variant of this problem. You are definitely not lynched but you are simply not welcome. I have heard European landlords confide in me, “The previous Indian tenant cooked the most rancid, foul smelling food I have ever smelled in my life, words cannot describe how nauseating it is ! Hope you are not that much in to cooking !!! ” . Why go to the West, even in an Asian country such as Singapore several landlords do not wish to rent to Indians and/or mainland Chinese because “Indians always cook smelly curries” or “Chineese cook stinky food”. Most expats including me who live in such environments goto great lengths to avoid “disturbing smell” in our neighbourhoods. Making dietary modifications and obsessive cleaning are all too common in such Indian and Chineese homes living in these neighbourhoods. In the so called “Mera Bharath Mahan”, I personally know of an incident where North-East Indian tenants were ousted out of an apartment for their “fowl-smelly cooking” not by the so-called fascist vegetocracy but by beef-pork eating Indian liberals. While there may not be any lynching involved, can we not label all these as culinary fascism of aromatic fragrances ?
There are certain culinary values which every society east, west, north, or south, consider acceptable, refined or even sacred. Hence, what can we do while living in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society sharing living space, in this time and age ?. I would argue that an approach to counter culinary fascism in India or elsewhere necessitates not only refraining from reactionary politics such as mob lynching and bans but also refraining from selective outrage and provocative counter-reactionalism. Political correctness, be it even on culinary fascism, does not legislate tolerance, it only organizes hatred. What right do we have to fowl-mouth the Indian vegetocracy whom we accuse of having denigrated the sanctity of our freedom to eat, when in the same breath we support the agitators who denigrate the sanctity of beef and cow?. While we must not definitely lynch anyone enjoying their beef kebabs, we must avoid flaunting it and willfully trampling on the sensitivities of others through beef-festivals too. Harmony in a multi-cultural society like India is a complex issue and can’t be placed on a pedestal with ready-made arguments.